J.J. YELEY Back 'Home' Again in Indiana CORNELIUS, N.C., (July 21, 2008) -- J.J. Yeley was born in Phoenix, but there's a pretty good chance he was made for Indiana. In addition to the well-known and historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the...
Back 'Home' Again in Indiana
CORNELIUS, N.C., (July 21, 2008) -- J.J. Yeley was born in Phoenix, but there's a pretty good chance he was made for Indiana.
In addition to the well-known and historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the state of Indiana is home to great dirt and pavement tracks, where drivers like Yeley, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Johnny Rutherford all raced at one time or another.
Tracks like O'Reilly Raceway Park, Kokomo Speedway, Lawrenceburg Speedway, Bloomington Speedway, North Vernon Speedway and the Terre Haute Action Track dot the landscape of a racing haven in America's heartland.
When he was growing up in the early 1980s, Yeley and his family would travel to Indiana every summer from Phoenix to live for a few months and watch his father, "Cactus" Jack Yeley, compete in USAC events around the state. By 1997, J.J. Yeley was driving in USAC events around Indiana, and in 1999 he moved to Indiana full-time to focus on winning USAC championships. That paid off in 2003 when he joined Tony Stewart as the only driver to win USAC's "Triple Crown" by capturing the Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown championships in the same year.
While Yeley now resides in Charlotte while driving the No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota Camry for Hall of Fame Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he still maintains 45 acres of property about 25 miles west of Indianapolis.
Yeley's roots in Indiana are strong, and he would like nothing more than a solid drive in Sunday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard to make his homecoming a happy one.
J.J. YELEY, driver of the No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota Camry:
Overall thoughts heading into the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard:
"It's always exciting to go back to Indianapolis and race. We're in a different position than I've been in at the Brickyard -- having to qualify our way in. It's one of the biggest races of the year. For me, it's exciting because Indiana is where I caught my break to get into NASCAR, having raced on the local dirt and pavement tracks. I'll probably be the most nervous going into the Brickyard than I will be for any other race, just knowing that it's a very important race for me and the entire DLP HDTV team."
How big of a racing hotbed is the state of Indiana?
"There's really not any other state that has as much going on night-in and night-out as far as racing goes. To know that within 80 miles of Indianapolis there are six dirt tracks that race Friday, Saturday and Sunday -- it makes it easy to be a race car driver. You can compete at a professional level and not have to have another job. You can race so much, you can make a career out of it. It's fun to get back there. I know they'll start with the USAC Silver Crown cars at O'Reilly Raceway Park in the middle of the week, and that kind of starts off the week of racing around the Brickyard."
Having been born and raised in Phoenix, how did Indiana become a second home to you?
"I moved there full-time in 1999. I had been going to Indiana with my parents to live for the summers since the early 1980s. We'd go there to race with my dad and we'd live in Brownsburg. As a little kid, I was going around to all the dirt tracks in Indiana. In 1997, I came to Indiana to race, and then in 1999, I moved there full-time to take a crack at winning championships."
You still own property in Indiana, correct?
"I own about 45 acres about 25 miles west of Indianapolis. I really enjoy the town of Indianapolis. I'm sure, someday, I'll move back there full-time. It's a great place to live and raise a family."
What is your favorite short track in Indiana?
"For me, I would say, from having a lot of fun and being a real racy track, I'd put North Vernon up there pretty high. They're all great places, though. I'd like to see what they've done with Lawrenceburg Speedway. That was always a fun place to go. There weren't a lot of race tracks in Indiana that I didn't enjoy going to."
It's often been said that the frontstretch at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway "narrows up" when it's full of people, compared to when the place is empty during testing or practice. Is that true?
"It's true. It does. It's one of the coolest race tracks we go to because of that fact. You can see the fans in the grandstands, and all the colors. To have fans that close to the race track on the inside and outside is pretty cool because you can see them. The straightaways are so long and perfectly straight that, at times, you can look around and catch glimpses of the fans as you go by. It's pretty cool."
All four turns at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are designed the same, but they are said to be quite different. Is that true?
"I don't know that you can break down all four turns as different from each other, but the ends of the race track are completely different. Turns one and two race a lot tighter than turns three and four do. If you look at the track from the air, they look identical and it seems to race the same way in an Indy car. There just seems to be a lot more room in turns three and four. Racing there is difficult and it's going to be very interesting to see how the new cars perform there. It was pretty hard to pass with the old cars. Just the struggles you had with tires and grip, you take a lot of that away with the new car. They just don't have as much grip as the old cars. So I think lap times will be down from what they were in the past and maybe it's good. Maybe it will make the race more exciting. I think it will be interesting, regardless."
Ten years ago you competed in your first and only Indianapolis 500-mile race. What do you remember about that?
"It's hard to believe it's been a decade since I ran the Indy 500. It makes me feel old. That experience, by itself, is something I'll never be able to match. The fans really do make that race what it is. The parade laps and the pre-race festivities, to me, are second to none. The sea of colors that you see when you take the green flag is something that captivated me more than anything else during the month of May."
What is the difference between the Indianapolis 500 and the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard?
"There is really no way to compare the two. The Indy 500 is a huge event and has an unbelievable amount of tradition behind it. It was cool, though, in 1994, to see the fans really accept NASCAR at Indianapolis and make it one of the biggest races on the NASCAR schedule. It's a race every driver wants to win."